Google is demonstrating support for news by stepping up its efforts to license content from publishers and provide unpaywalled access within its Google News app—an attempt to diffuse regulatory pressure.

The issue of incentives to sustain scale businesses that originate and distribute high quality news in the digital era is still left unanswered.

Facebook has taken an opposite strategy, banning the sharing of news in Australia on their platforms—a risky, yet calculated move.

National World Plc, David Montgomery’s investment vehicle founded in 2019, will buy JPI Media for £10.2 million, a tiny 1.7x EBITDA.

Disposals by JPI Media shifted its operating model towards digital, National World will shift this further.

This acquisition kicks off what is likely to be a busy period for M&A, though local consolidation remains hindered by the local media mergers regime.

On 1 October, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced $1 billion for worldwide news publisher partnerships for a novel News Showcase product, helping them to distribute their content to a new audience.

It is an important milestone: for the first time Google will pay publishers to curate content in the Google News app (initially), and to provide unpaywalled access to articles on publishers’ websites that users can click through to.

In so doing, Google is defusing the simmering conflict with publishers in major markets, and showing policy-makers its willingness to collaborate with a news industry facing existential threats.

 

Journalism is on the precipice with more than £1 billion likely to fall off the industry’s topline. Several years of projected structural revenue decline in advertising and circulation have occurred in just the past few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, with no letup in sight.

The UK’s rich heritage of independent journalism is at risk, with responses by Government and ‘big tech’ multinationals welcomed but ultimately inadequate. We make two further recommendations for engagement in this report.

Journalism enterprises from the small, local and specialist outfits through to national household brands will either fail or remain on a path to future failure.

COVID-19 has sent online news surging, with publishers experiencing massive traffic uplift, as trusted news sources become increasingly important.

But the industry is still heavily reliant on print revenues, and we are seeing supply chains come under extreme pressure as core readers self-isolate and retail giants close or de-prioritise news media. Advertising—including categories like retail and travel—has collapsed.

In face of existential threats to the sector, we have written to DCMS to mobilise Government funding to sustain news provision and journalism.

Low-priced quality tabloid the i has been bought by DMGT for £49.6m, a 4.5x multiple on historical operating profit. The sale provides a lifeline to JPI Media as Reach has withdrawn from negotiations for the local estate

The i signals growing confidence in consumer media at DMGT after a long period rebalancing the portfolio towards B2B, and new ownership serves as an opportunity to rethink and drive the i’s online service

Although the acquisition will be reviewed by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), we expect the deal to pass

Media coverage of women’s sport escalated this summer thanks to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which ignited national interest. The Lionesses attracted an exceptional peak TV audience of 11.8 million for England’s semi-final match against the USA

Still, coverage of women's sport remains minimal outside of major events: only 4% of printed sports articles reference female athletes. Quality press are leading the way—the launch of Telegraph Women’s Sport being the prime example—but the popular press are yet to follow

Freely-accessible coverage will generate greater interest and audiences for women’s sport, but continuous investment from all media will be needed to fulfil its potential

The average cover price of national newspapers has risen by 58% since 2010, more than twice the CPI increase of 22%. Are publishers “shooting themselves in the foot” at a time when buyers and advertisers are defecting to online?

To settle this, we analysed all the cover price events by national titles between 2010 and 2018, which reveals the relative success of The Times when it has raised its price.

For mid-market and popular titles, cover price hikes have on balance reduced circulation revenues and, by lowering reach, drained advertising revenue: a lose-lose scenario.

Bleak prospects for digital advertising leave no choice to news publishers but to generate revenue from readers, and the lack of widespread frictionless micropayment options means there is no alternative to subscription — the vast majority of western ‘quality’ newspapers have rolled out paywalls; meters and registrations are the most promising approaches

Recent politics have increased demand for quality journalism and readiness to pay. Despite clumsy commercial models the rise in subscriber numbers is encouraging, but current price points may be too low for a sustainable digital transition. Churn is high, publishers have yet to fully develop and optimise ecommerce

The transition to an audience-centric model is a shift away from click bait, with distinctiveness, curation and news agenda hierarchy among the most important factors. Leveraging data to optimise audience engagement remains challenging

Even though Facebook is not a producer of news, 6.5 million UK internet users claim to mainly source their news from the platform. Posts and shares by friends in the user's network, in the context of Facebook's algorithm, determine the order of stories in the personalised News Feed, removing the control of the news agenda that publishers have for their websites

Premium publishers operating a paywall (The Times, The Financial Times) have a lower key approach to Facebook than publishers generating advertising revenue from referral traffic to their websites or from on-platform consumption of Instant Articles. The latter will seek to stimulate social media engagement, optimising stories through attention-grabbing headlines, and installing Facebook’s share and like buttons on their websites

Case studies of the news stories that were prominent on Facebook (measured by likes, comments and shares) in the periods leading up to the Brexit Referendum and General Election 2017 votes respectively demonstrate that newspaper brands (the Express for Brexit, and The Guardian for the General Election) achieved the highest reach on Facebook during these periods, despite being ranked below other news brands (BBC in particular) in terms of traffic to their websites